March 12, 1978.

I spent the late winter Sunday in the Burtrum Hills, west of Upsala, Minnesota.  My dad was in his mid-fifties, and he and mom had not yet retired to the snowbird’s life.  So, if you live in Minnesota in the wintertime, you either hibernate or you adopt a wintertime hobby—snowmobiling & ice fishing were two of dad’s favorites, but that winter he spent making wood.  He bought stumpage rights to a 40 acre parcel of hardwoods.  Now, there was no practical reason why he made wood—after all, his business was as the fuel oil distributor in Upsala—but it was something to do to stay active.

There was a man who had two sons.  The younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

We brought a six-pack along, as always.   Dad would work the chain saw, and I would split logs.  Then I would gather the lopped off small branches and heave them atop the bonfire started earlier with glugs of fuel oil.  Flames must have leaped twenty feet in the air.  His transistor radio blared the number one song of the day by the Bee Gees.

Well you can tell
by the way I use my walk
I’m a woman’s man
no time to talk
Music loud and women warm
I’ve been kicked around
since I was born

I had my own wintertime hobby.  And summertime too.  I drank.

When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

We finished up as the red sun dipped behind a stand of white pine.  We covered some of the gear with a canvas tarp and piled ourselves into his pickup.  Mom had chili cooked back in Upsala, which I washed down with a couple more beers.  Soon my wife, six-month old baby daughter, and I headed to our own home along the Mississippi River north of St. Cloud.

And now it’s all right, it’s ok
and you may look the other way
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Lynn put Karin to bed while I chipped some ice for a Beefeater’s martini.  I was a classy drunk.  I only drank the best.  I rolled a joint.  Before long, I was exquisitely high, and Lynn looked away.  She knew it was pointless to say anything.

I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you;I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”

But this night was different.  I had a secret plan.

Whether you’re a brother
or whether you’re a mother
you’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Feel the city breakin
and everybody shakin’
and were stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive

The next morning, I went early to work as a young associate at the leading St. Cloud law firm, and I placed a letter on the senior partner’s desk.  Then I drove a few blocks to the St. Cloud hospital where Karin had been born the previous fall.  The lady at the information desk said the Alcohol & Chemical Dependency unit was on 2 South.

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

The folks at the nurse’s station weren’t quite sure what to do with me.  They didn’t usually get Monday morning walk-ins in pin stripe suits.  I called Lynn and told her where I was.  She came as soon as she could arrange a babysitter, and my boss showed up too.

Well now I get low and I get high
And if I can’t get either, I really try
Got the wings of heaven on my shoes
I’m a dancin man and I just can’t lose

You know it’s all right, it’s ok
I’ll live to see another day
We can try to understand
The New York Times’ effect on man

Life goin’ nowhere
somebody help me
Somebody help me, yeah
I’m stayin’ alive…

That was thirty-four years ago, and I’m still clean and sober.  Saplings that we left on the slopes that day are pretty high by now.  Karin’s three years sober herself.

But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate;for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’